Eight months ago, I wrote down my clever ideas to read an instructional book on poetry, to complete the exercises, to write down my results, and to discuss my thoughts and the process at large. I said that I hoped the plan wouldn’t fall through after an hour, and I succeeded in that plan in that it took merely the time to click publish before that clever idea fell through.
Still, regardless of reasoning, I have found my way back to this project. Let’s see if I can’t write a couple of pieces before it all turns to custard once again…
Have you ever heard the word supracoracoideus? It’s a type of muscle. More important, it’s the type of muscle a bird uses to create elevation when flying. I tend not to have favourite things outside of chocolate, but supracoracoideus might be my favourite word.
The reason I mention this word is twofold. The first is that it’s a fun word to say. Seriously, say it out loud; taste the sound it makes. It’s bouncy and adorable and feels like exactly something needed to make wings work.
The second reason is that I feel it’s a good word to explain an iamb. See, iambic pentameter is one of those terms anyone reading Shakespeare at school has heard, and, resultantly, is a term nearly every student has actively forgotten.
But it’s not actually a difficult thing. We’ll get to pentameter momentarily, but let’s take a quick look at the iamb. Remember how I said to say the word supracoracoideus out loud? Do it again now, slowly:
Did you feel the rhythm of the word? The iamb is one part of the rhythm. It starts with a downward inflecting syllable and is followed by an upward inflecting syllable. It’s like watching a skater on a half-pipe going down then up, down then up.
An iamb is one of the types of feet in poetry.
It may be easier to explain with a more comprehensive example. Stephen Fry listed a couple pages worth of examples; the following is a couplet from Seamus Heany’s ‘Blackberry-Picking’ which I found particularly beautiful:
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full
The way that you say ‘hayfields, cornfields’, the movement of the syllables, it mimics the movement, the wave of the fields. It’s the same as supracoracoideus, the way each syllable almost feels like the beating of a wing. That’s the power of the iamb, not only placing the image in the word, but placing the feeling in the word. It’s the heartbeat of a particular type of poetry.
The pentameter is a much more simple thing: it’s a measurement (meter) of five feet (penta). A single foot is the type of measurement used; in our case, the iamb. Thus, iambic pentameter is ten alternating syllables, falling and rising in rhythm.
To get a feel for the format, Stephen Fry suggested writing down 20 lines of iambic pentameter in 10 minutes. Because words, and not numbers, are my forte, I wrote 21. Behold…
To focus for ten minutes seems too long. Why do these useless limbs continue on in limiting the things my mind would do. The window of my library keeps me a voyeur on the world that’s passing by. I’ve seen a dozen people since lockdown and still my mind is struggling to return. The chirpings of cicadas still please me. No, I was never good with keeping time, nor coming up with words when needing to. A baby spider scuttled past my way. I understand the need to learn the form, but this is why I did not care at school. I wish that I could synchronise my mind. I should have had a pee before the start. I think that life on Vanderbilt Parade has been a kinder thing than for some time. A hope for the improbable resides, a dream of your soft body next to mine. The words do not flow merrily from me, but I’ll still be the conduit I can.
That’s it. Assuming I’ve done this right, everything above is written in iambic pentameter.
To be honest, I absolutely adored this exercise. I didn’t enjoy it all the way through, but there’s something reassuring to the idea that life so conversational can also be so rhythmic. Anyway, that’s enough of my prattling for now. Let’s see how long it takes me to do the next chapter.